Pope's place in this chronology
is determined by his most celebrated public statement of gardening
principles in the verse epistle to Lord Burlington; it is preceded
though, by his early essay of 1713 from The Guardian, in which
he attacks the fashion for topiary, and by a long account of
Lord Digby's gardens at Sherborne in Dorset in a letter to Martha
Blount, tentatively dated 1724. Pope exercised a doubly strong
influence over the course of garden history: by his published
pronouncements, and by his private example. His own gardens at
Twickenham (see pp. 247ff.) were justly famous during his lifetime,
not least because he alluded to them in his satires and in his
private correspondence; he is also known to have advised friends
and acquaintances on their garden projects. The second extract
provides a vivid illustration of this world of private elysiums
and landscaping enthusiasms: it shows how adept Pope was at exploring
and understanding a complicated garden and how subtly he responded
to its more geometrical elements (Plate 72) as well as its `natural'
scenes. The Guardian paper, the first extract, establishes Pope's
awareness of Classical precedents; but he can dissociate himself
from the taste for topiary, which Pliny at least professed (see
Castell, p. 187), in order to launch his witty attack upon its
chronic abuse among his contemporaries. The third extract combines
his delight in, and skill with, satire and his generous approbation
of gardens like Stowe (Plates 73 and 74). Despite various attempts
to identify Timon’s Villa (the Duke of Chandos's Cannons
House and Walpole's Houghton Hall have been candidates), it is
more likely to have been an imaginary and composite image of
current absurdities in design. While Pope's contribution to the
landscape movement cannot be minimized, it will be noticed that
the principles of design enunciated in the letter to Burlington
have already been encountered in earlier texts (Switzer, for
example); what the Epistle achieves, above all, is a memorable
and, incisive vision of what many lesser writers struggled to
Essay from The Guardian (1713)
I Lately took a particular Friend of mine to
my House in the Country, not without some Apprehension that it
could afford little Entertainment to a Man of his Polite Taste,
particularly in Architecture and Gardening, who had so long been
conversant with all that is beautiful and great in either. But
it was a pleasant Surprize to me, to hear him often declare,
he had found in my little Retirement the Beauty which he always
thought wanting in the most celebrated Seats, or if you will
Villa's, of the Nation. This he described to me in those Verses
with which Martial begins one of his Epigrams:ao4
Baiana nostri Villa, Basse, Faustini,
Non otiosis ordinata myrtetis,
Viduaque platano, tonsilique buxeto,
Ingrata lati spatia detinet campi,
Sed rure vero, barbaroque laetatur. [*]
THERE is certainly something in the amiable
Simplicity of unadorned Nature that spreads over the Mind a more
noble sort of Tranquility, and a loftier Sensation of Pleasure,
than can be raised from the nicer Scenes of Art.
THIS was the Taste of the Ancients in their Gardens, as we may discover from
the Descriptions are extant of them. The two most celebrated Wits of the World
have each of them left us a particular Picture of a Garden; wherein those great
Masters, being wholly unconfined, and Painting at Pleasure, may be thought
to have given a full Idea of what they esteemed most excellent in this way.
These (one may observe) consist intirely of the useful Part of Horticulture,
Fruit-Trees, Herbs, Water, &c. The Pieces I am speaking of are Virgil’s
Account of the Garden of the old Corycian, and Homer's of that of Alcinous.
The first of these is already known to the English Reader, by the excellent
Versions of Mr. Dryden and Mr. Addison. The other having never been attempted
in our Language with any Elegance, and being the most beautiful Plan of this
sort that can be imagined, I shall here present the Reader with a Translation
[* Bassus, the country seat of our friend Faustinus
at Baia, does not spread over the fields unfruitfully in rows
of idle myrtle, vineless plane trees, plantations of fancy clipped
boxwood. It rejoices in the true rustic, the untrimmed farm.]
The Gardens of Alcinous, from Homer's Odyss.
Close to the Gates a spacious Garden lies,
From Storms defended and inclement Skies:
Four Acres was th' allotted Space of Ground,
Fenc'd with a green Enclosure all around.
Tall thriving Trees confest the fruitful Mold;
The red'ning Apple ripens here to Gold,
Here the blue Figg with luscious Juice o'erflows,
With deeper Red the full Pomegranate glows,
The Branch here bends beneath the weighty Pear,
And verdant Olives flourish round the Year.
The balmy Spirit of the Western Gale
Eternal breaths on Fruits untaught to fail:
Each dropping Pear a following Pear supplies,
On Apples Apples, Figs on Figs arise:
The same mild Season gives the Blooms to blow,
The Buds to harden, and the Fruits to grow.
Here order'd Vines in equal Ranks appear,
With all th' United Labours of the Year.
Some to unload the fertile Branches run,
Some dry the black'ning Clusters in the Sun,
Others to tread the liquid Harvest Join,
The groaning Presses foam with Floods of Wine.
Here are the Vines in early Flow'r descry'd,
Here Grapes discolour'd on the Sunny Side,
And there in Autumn's richest Purple dy'd.
Beds of all various Herbs, for ever green,
In beauteous Order terminate the Scene.
Two plenteous Fountains the whole Prospect crown'd;
This thro' the Gardens leads its Streams around,
Visits each Plant, and waters all the Ground:
Whale that in Pipes beneath the Palace flows,
And thence its Current on the Town bestows;
To various Use their various Streams they bring,
The People one, and one supplies the King.